Mark Landler is a White House correspondent for The New York Times. Under the title “Through Diplomacy, Obama Finds a Pen Pal in Iran,” Landler wrote of President Barack Obama’s deep “belief in the power of the written word,” and of his “frustrating private correspondence with the leaders of Iran.” (NYT, Sep. 19)
What is also frustrating is the unabashed snobbery of Landler’s and the NYT’s narrative regarding Iran: that of successive U.S. administrations trying their best and obstinate Iranian leaders – stereotyped and derided - who always fail to reciprocate. This is all supposedly changing though since the new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, who they present as different and approachable, decided to break ranks with his predecessors.
This is of course hardly an appropriate framing of the story. While a friendly exchange of letters between Rowhani and Obama is a welcomed development in a region that is torn between failed revolutions, civil wars and the potential of an all-out regional conflict, it is not true that it is Rowhani’s personality that is setting him apart from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rowhani’s ‘charm offensive’ as described by the times is a ‘process’ that ‘has included the release of 11 prominent political prisoners and a series of conciliatory statements by top Iranian officials.’ It is natural then, we are meant to believe, that Obama would make his move and apply his writing skills in earnest. Israel was not mentioned in the story even once, as if the fact that Israel’s decade-long advocacy of sanctioning and bombing Iran has not been the single greatest motive behind the deteriorating relations between Washington and Tehran, long before Ahmadinejad was painted by U.S. media, NTY included, as the devil incarnate.
It really matters little whether Obama is a true pen pal or not, the same way that his oratory skills have long been disregarded as extraneous.Ramzy Baroud
Iran’s internal politics is multifarious, and the country’s location in a geopolitically complex region makes it impossible, needless to say unfair, to confine the country’s existence to the U.S. whims and expectations. It is U.S. impulses, not the Iranian’s leader lack of letter writing skills that made the relationship extremely difficult since the breakup 34 years ago. Since then, it has been one pretense after the other. At the heart of the U.S. argument is Israel’s security – a doctrine that simply means total Israeli military domination over its neighbors. U.S. insistence to rule over a region it perceives as its domain since the fading of British and French influence in the oil-rich region has its many, violent at times, implications. But there were also many wasted opportunities that could have assured both the U.S. and Iran that mutual respect and cooperation were a possibility worth exploring.
Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami (in office 1997-2005) was a reformist, and he too was seen as ‘different’. In fact, he did try to reach out to the U.S., but aside from a few symbolic gestures involving both parties, to no avail. The balances of power were extremely skewed in favor of the U.S., and politicians with sinister ambitions understood well the danger of reciprocal diplomacy with Iran.